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Number of Welsh speakers in Wales falls for second decade in a row according to census

06 Dec 2022 3 minute read
The 2021 Census

The number of Welsh speakers in Wales has fallen for the second decade in a row according to the 2021 census.

In 2021, an estimated 538,000 usual residents in Wales aged three years and over (17.8%) reported being able to speak Welsh, which is a decrease since 2011 (562,000,19.0%).

It means that there are 24,000 fewer Welsh speakers in Wales than there were 10 years ago.

The figure comes after the number of Welsh speakers decreased from 582,000 (20.8%) in 2001 to 562,000 (19%) in 2011.

The Welsh Government have a target of 1m Welsh speakers by 2050.

One of the main factors contributing to the overall decrease in the percentage of people who reported being able to speak Welsh between 2011 and 2021 was the decrease in children and young people aged 3 to 15 years who reported this skill, the ONS said.

The percentage of usual residents aged three years and over able to speak Welsh decreased between 2011 and 2021 in all local authorities except Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan, Rhondda Cynon Taf, and Merthyr Tydfil.

The biggest increase was in Cardiff where some 6,000 more people could speak the language than in 2021.

Among children and young people aged 3 to 15 years, the percentage who could speak Welsh decreased in all local authorities between 2011 and 2021.

‘Positivity’

Shadow Welsh Language Minister Samuel Kurtz said the published census figures showed that the Welsh Government was out of ideas when it came to supporting the Welsh language.

“This is a deeply disappointing statistic that shows the Labour Government is further off meeting its Cymraeg 2050 ambition than it was when it set the target of reaching a million speakers in 30 years’ time,” he said.

“What lies behind this? Self-reporting is a flawed model of measurement, and with such a long-term strategy, with responsibility being handed from Minister to Minister as we approach 2050, there is little accountability around decisions impacting the language.

“While we fully support the ambitions of the Cymraeg 2050 target, the Census’ data shows the stark reality of a tired Government, in power for too long and out of ideas.

“Positivity around the language, showing that it is cool, modern and useable in day-to-day life is that way we can ensure the most beautiful language on Earth can flourish in its homeland.”


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Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
1 month ago

With increasing numbers of Welsh medium schools, I hope and believe this trend of decline will be reversed by the 2031 census. The will to use the language and declaring you are a speaker of it is essential of course.

Richard
Richard
1 month ago
Reply to  Fi yn unig

Welsh medium schooling has been growing for decades though including the one that’s just been which makes the decline amongst children of school age all the more surprising and disappointing. So far I’ve only managed to have a quick look at the figures but one positive could be a small increase amongst 16-64 year olds, which may suggest some improvement in those who have learned Welsh at school retaining the language.

Maglocunos
Maglocunos
1 month ago

Yma o hyd!

Not a true representation of the total number of people who can speak Welsh, many thousands of native speakers and learners outside Wales.

But Llywodraeth Cymru needs to develop much more robust language policies to halt the decline in the Welsh speaking heartlands and reverse the trend.

A ni siaradwyr Cymraeg, rhaid i ninnau fynnu fod yr iaith yn cael ei phriod lle yn ein cymunedau a’r gofod cyhoeddus. A sicrhau fod yr iaith yn byw ar ein haelwydydd a’n gweithleoedd.

Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  Maglocunos

Doed gan Lywodraeth Cymru ddim botwm corn o ddiddordeb mewn gwarchod y cadarnleodd. Maent yn gweld y ‘Fro Gymraeg’ fel thyw fath o genedl o fewn cenedl, sy’n fygythiad i Gymru sifil unedig lle mae pawb yn byw yn Saesneg ond miliwn o bobl yn galllu dweud ‘Bore da’ a ‘Tisio paned’. Petaent o ddifri buasent wedi gweithredu llawer cyn hyn.

Christine Jones
Christine Jones
1 month ago

The decrease in Carmarthenshire is unsurprising as the culture of that county is becoming rapidly Anglicised, with many incomers – retirees and remote workers – attracted by cheap, in their eyes, ‘Executive homes’, and rural lifestyles. Welsh Government has to wake up to demographic shifts of this nature.

lufcwls
lufcwls
1 month ago

How many 3 to 15 years olds filled in the census? I imagine none, their parents did, who may just project their Welsh skills on to their children despite the fact that they are learning it in school. What about the number of Welsh speakers in England?

Jon_S
Jon_S
1 month ago
Reply to  lufcwls

I think you overestimate what “sticks” in teaching in schools. I have three children, all aged 15+. They have been taught Welsh since pre-school. The quality of their Welsh is about as good as the quality of my French when I left secondary school with a C Grade at O Level many moons ago. ie. Not much good for anything. There needs to be an overhaul of Welsh language teaching – make it less academic, more real. Concentrate on Welsh culture – film, TV, music – make it relevant, immerse the kids, and not make it “boring”, as I keep… Read more »

Benjiman Angwin
Benjiman Angwin
1 month ago

Only Jews and Basques have turned the tide from this. In Hebrew, Tel Aviv was declared a Hebrew city. In Basque, all teachers get a year of language for free. If you are serious.

Cynan again
Cynan again
1 month ago

Irtonically, Tel Aviv is the most multicultural of all Israeli cities. Arabic and English are also widely spoken (source: Me. I spent months there in the 90s)

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
1 month ago

The tone of those who have so far responded is somewhat downhearted. I totally agree with many of the negative comments but remain hopeful. In a recent interesting article by Dafydd Trystan in Nation Cymru, he argued that a straight “do you speak Welsh” is misleading, not least because many like me speak a moderate amount of Cymraeg and (although I said “yes” in the census, because I was, and am, suspicious about “proving” that the use of Welsh is declining), I’m not sure that I “Speak Welsh.” There are any number like me – I have friends who are… Read more »

Cai Edwards
Cai Edwards
1 month ago
Reply to  Dr John Ball

These self-soothing platitudes do nothing to distract from the reality of what’s happening on the shop floor in what were Welsh-speaking communities. In the 1960s, Welsh was so widely spoken in many communities that people could “afford” to be educated in English. Bilingual road signs were seen as unnecessary. Now, children are educated in Welsh and speak English at home. And things that were there as a ‘backup’ for the Welsh language such as religion and industry have almost completely disappeared. People say that more people are speaking Welsh in Cardiff – woohoo! It’s a drop in the ocean. Cardiff… Read more »

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
1 month ago
Reply to  Cai Edwards

You really are cheerful.

Platitudes!! I am very much aware of the problems but have seen enormous positive changes over the decades and remain optimistic.
You might help by being more positive – go and but yourself a pint.

Cai Edwards
Cai Edwards
1 month ago
Reply to  Dr John Ball

I’m a qualified Welsh teacher and have previously worked for schools and universities. We just don’t have the numbers anymore. The Basque country has both kinds of critical mass – one is numbers and the other is location. We have the numbers but due to outward migration we have lost our ability to hold our communities together and the social fabric has now been ripped irreversibly.

You carry on daydreaming dear. We are living on borrowed time.

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
1 month ago
Reply to  Cai Edwards

It depends on whether you’re a half full or half empty, I suspect you’re the latter.
I am neither complacent nor indulge in platitudes.
My son teaches in a Welsh language school situated in the middle of a large, almost entirely English speaking council estate.
The school is bursting at the seams with a long waiting list.
No hope there then…..

Rhosddu
Rhosddu
1 month ago
Reply to  Dr John Ball

Precisely. There will be many adult learners, even at Lefel Uwch, who would have felt uncomfortable about ticking “Yes” but who can nevertheless hold a conversation in Welsh to a degree. The census figure reflects the number of fluent Welsh speakers; it should have asked about levels of competence, in which case the figure would have been much higher. Hopefully the Office of National Statistics will give a more accurate figure than the Census did.

Jon_S
Jon_S
1 month ago
Reply to  Rhosddu

That is a fair point. For the language to be seen to be in a healthy state of affairs, though, we need fluent speakers. A mass of more than competent Welsh learners, welcome as it is, who can speak Welsh to a fair degree but would feel far more comfortable conversing in English, can only ever be part of a downward slope. If they are not using the language day to day, when going to the shops, in work, etc, what’s the point? Where does it lead? The focus needs to be on communities. Forget parts of Wales where only… Read more »

Richard
Richard
1 month ago
Reply to  Rhosddu

Most surveys taken on Welsh language skills in Wales show around 30 per cent of respondents claiming to have knowledge of it, compared to the 18 per cent in the census. I think that a lot of people who aren’t very confident in the language are quite happy to describe themselves as Welsh speakers in an informal survey but are more reluctant to do so in a more official document like the census.

Rhosddu
Rhosddu
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard

Correct. Hence the need for a more graded question in the next census, asking about level of competence.

Riki
Riki
1 month ago

This is a direct result of England’s monopolisation of every Area of Media and Entertainment! The Children may learn Welsh in School but where do they see it outside and when they grow up? Nowhere, The only way you reverse this is to wake up and take control of your country through independence. Then get a hard border with the only nation that has done Wales the harm! I know it’s ridiculous, what sort of people would want safeguards in place to make sure they still have a country in a century? Why do we have to be the odd… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Riki
Ian Taylor
Ian Taylor
1 month ago
Reply to  Riki

Wyt i’n wir yn meddwl bod Lloegr yn ormeswr? Pawen lawen Riki!…..tri llew a draig coch – true love!

Dafydd Owen
Dafydd Owen
1 month ago

How much have the Welsh Government, local authorities and LEAs spent on developing the Welsh Language since devolution? Given the abject failure of that spending to achieve its objective, should we redirect those funds towards our crumbling public services? What is more important, the number of Welsh speakers, or being seen within 6 hours of arriving at A&E?

Johnny Gamble
Johnny Gamble
1 month ago
Reply to  Dafydd Owen

You have a valid point Dafydd obviously spending money as you point out hasn’t worked.It would be something if the Welsh Government told us exactly how they are going to get 1 Million speakers by 2050.

Jon_S
Jon_S
1 month ago
Reply to  Dafydd Owen

The decline of the Welsh language is in part a side-effect of wider problems in the communities that spoke it. Solve the latter, and the former will right itself if done in time. Throwing money at “saving” the language via legislation will get us nowhere.

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
1 month ago

Trist iawn.

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